Public school occupational and physical therapists will be revoting on their contract: United Federation of Teachers

OT/PTs for a Contract
Courtesy of United Federation of Teachers OT/PTs For A Fair Contract

Public school occupational and physical therapists in New York City who initially rejected the United Federation of Teachers contract with the city will get to revote on their chapter’s contract.

In an email sent Friday, Aug. 4 to the chapter representing occupational and physical therapists, UFT President Michael Mulgrew stated that members who voted “no” on the contract that was approved on July 10 can revote. 

The revote will be done, without further negotiations, on the same contract presented and approved by a majority of the UFT in July, according to UFT spokesperson Alison Gendar. The contract most notably details pay increases and salary schedules, as well as virtual learning and school workday guidance.

The email stated that the UFT met with the American Arbitration Association, which organizes the voting process, and together, determined that new ballots will be mailed on Tuesday, Aug. 8 and due on Aug. 29. The ballots will then be counted on Aug. 30.

UFT leaders arranged a virtual meeting on Aug. 4 to discuss the possibility of scheduling a revote by the occupational and physical therapists chapter, which was the only part of the bargaining unit that rejected the contract.

“In the past several weeks there has been an outpouring of opinion from your chapter concerning the idea of a revote,” Mulgrew stated in the email. “We weighed all sides of the arguments and took everything into consideration.”

The five-year UFT contract, approved by a 74.6% margin, was voted down by mostly occupational and physical therapists with a vote of 1,129 against and 782 in favor. Those who voted to approve the contract were mainly supervisors of nurses and therapists, audiologists, and school nurses, all of whom are part of the same chapter with occupational and physical therapists.

Mulgrew stated that because they overwhelmingly approved the contract, supervisors of nurses and therapists, audiologists, and school nurses are “officially being removed” from the bargaining unit they had shared with occupational and physical therapists. Because these three groups already overwhelmingly voted to ratify their contracts, Mulgrew stated that there is no reason for them to revote.”

“The OT/PT chapter will now stand alone and, as a result, the situation has changed significantly,” Mulgrew wrote. “We now feel strongly about having a revote only for your chapter. Please note that the result of your chapter’s revote – no matter the outcome – will be final.”

In all future bargaining, the occupational and physical therapists will be its own chapter from this point on, UFT spokesperson Alison Gendar told amNewYork Metro.

To pass, the contract will require more than 50% of occupational and physical therapists.

Several occupational and physical therapists told amNewYork Metro that they rejected the initial contract because the terms didn’t honor their demands for higher wages and pay equity between them and public school employees such as teachers and speech therapists. 

Mimi Greenberg, an occupational therapist, told amNewYork Metro that her salary is at the top of the pay scale after having worked for the city’s Department of Education for 22 years. She said while entry-level occupational and physical therapists generally start off making more than speech therapists, for instance, the salary differences — tens of thousands of dollars once at the top of the pay scale — increase over time. 

“Our role is similar to speech therapists,” Greenberg said. “It’s certainly on par with a social worker.”

Greenberg was on the contract negotiation committee, which advocated establishing pay parity between occupational and physical therapists and other DOE positions. She said it was “ridiculous” that the chapter will revote on the same contract without going back to the negotiation table. 

“I consider it a great injustice,” Greenberg said. “A lot of work was put in to something that was thrown in the garbage.” 

Alison Loebel, a physical therapist who has worked for the DOE for more than two decades, shared her thoughts with amNewYork Metro regarding the revote.

“I blame (Michael) Mulgrew for flat out saying there would be no return to negotiations, then mentioning the possibility of a “revote” encouraging the email campaign, refusing to work with our chapter leadership and negotiating committee on getting a better contract, and then using the emails that he helped to whip up to justify a do-over,” Loebel wrote. 

Both Loebel and Greenberg predict a “yes” vote on the contract because some may now feel a sense of hopelessness about their demands being unmet and dismissed by Mulgrew and the city. Loebel said there might also be a low turnout from those who already voted to reject the contract because many are still be on summer vacation.

“We don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” Greenberg said. “We figure it’s gonna be a “yes” after all this time, and him beating us down.”

“This is not democratic, this is disenfranchising,” Loebel said. “This is not how things are supposed to work.”

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